This weekend I’m moving out of my lovely little apartment so I thought I’d share about my neighborhood and the people I visit on a (more or less) daily basis.
For me, one of the most enriching parts about living in Thailand is developing relationships with the people I interact with regularly. I love going to the same people for my local goods, because I get to chat with them, they know what I like to order, and they help me improve my Thai. It also makes the consumer relationship feel less sterile and awkward. For example, I don’t just go to my coffee guy because I love the coffee – I like that he always strikes up a conversation with me. I see him around in restaurants and local stores too and it makes me feel like part of the community when I can throw him a ‘Sawadee ka!”
When I lived in the US, going into places was always a transaction, a means to an end, and I was usually eager to get it over with so I could move on to other things. In Thailand, I like slowing down and taking the time to chat and smile. It really boosts my mood for the day and makes me feel like less of an outsider. I think a sense of community is crucial to surviving in a new country as an expat, because without it life can get pretty lonely and unfulfilling. For me, that community is made up of the local vendors in my neighborhood, the people who work in my building, and the people who work/frequent my favorite restaurants. So here’s a little snapshot of my hood:
The fruit guy: I buy at least 2-3 fruits from this guy every morning. He has taught me the Thai words for all the fruits he sells and we practice back and forth (I order in Thai, he repeats my order in English). Most mornings he’ll try to guess what I feel like having or recommend something that’s really good that day. He’s always smiley and I get fresh, delicious fruit from him so I always feel good when I leave this little cart! (For the curious, each fruit item is 10 baht or $0.33)
The vegetable lady: I visit this vegetable stall about 3-4 times a week when we need bell peppers, onions, cilantro, garlic (are you sensing a Mexican theme here?), etc. The lady is very sweet and I get awesome deals on the veggies. I also discovered that I could order fresh bricks of tofu from her for 10 baht – a life changing discovery.
The newspaper lady: These ladies are always having a good time and smiling. The one on the left is who I usually chat with, and we always crack up because I can’t ever find the English newspaper. She tells me instructions in Thai, which it takes me a moment to grasp, like “the blue one”, and then when I finally figure it out there’s a lot of excitement. I also like to look at all the Thai newspapers and magazines. For the curious, the paper costs 30 baht ($1). Since we don’t get cable, it’s the next best thing (plus, crosswords in English!)
The flower stand: Though I don’t really chat with these ladies, it’s awesome being able to buy fresh orchids from them for 10 baht ($0.33). My boyfriend brings them home for me every once in a while on days when I have to work late tutoring. Even when I don’t buy them, I love to stop and look at the unopened lotuses and smell the fresh roses.
The phad thai guy: This guy is a master of phad thai. He literally makes 9 orders at a time (as you can see in the picture) and remembers me and what I like to order. He’s a man of few words but extraordinary phad thai cooking abilities. It’s literally the best phad thai I’ve ever had, made fresh and ready to order with bean sprouts and spring onions on the side. Damn, I might have to go get some here shortly…
The roti lady: This lady is awesome. If you’ve never had roti, you are seriously missing out. It’s a tortilla-like dough cooked in ghee with sweetened-condensed milk on top (and banana and/or egg too if you want it). I go for the super thick ones that are a bit smaller with just some sweetened-condensed milk on top. It’s sweet and salty and buttery and delicious. I usually get a stomach ache immediately after but I don’t even care. The lady is very sweet and she thinks it’s hilarious that my boyfriend and I never want a bag to hold our rotis in because we finish them before we even make it home (her stall is at the bottom of our street). She always jokingly asks us ‘aroi mai?’ (delicious, no?).
Are you a regular at any local places near you? Do you think that kind of community is important? Let me know what you think in the comments below!